Thursday, December 23, 2010

Manicotti filled with a Little Something Something

One of my favorite meals growing up was my mother's manicotti.  I always assumed it just like all the other mom foods we love.  Crepes filled with ricotta cheese and topped with a little tomato sauce.  Easy, right?

I thought wrong.  After making these lamb-filled crepes this weekend, I now realize that I should have given my mom more credit for her manicotti.  Everything on down to the crepes was easy to prepare, but those pancakes sure were a doozy!  The technique sounded easy enough to me: a little butter in a non-stick pan, swirl the batter around, cook, flip, and cook a bit more.  But after several ugly, broken crepes and more batter over the Significant Eater's stovetop than she wants to know, I realized that I had to make some changes to my crepe technique.  I finally figured that the key to a good crepe is to keep it thin, stupid.  By putting just enough batter to cover the pan, the crepe will nearly cook through so that when you flip it, it will stay in tact.  Once I figure that out, I was a crepe-making machine, turning out a flawless crepe every few minutes.

Aside from the crepe part, this dish is the simple kind of component cooking I love.  It sounds intricate— braised meat, crepes, tomato sauce#151;but every component can be made well ahead of time.  Even better, you can turn this dish into anything you please by using the flavor profile of your choosing.  While I used braised lamb and flavored the ricotta with mint,  you could try braised pork shoulder and sage-flavored ricotta, or short ribs with rosemary ricotta.  Even crab and parsley ricotta with a pink sauce.  To that end, in order to keep you all on your creative tiptoes, I've made this recipe as ambiguous as possible. 

Manicotti filled with the Cook's Choice


For the crepes:
  1. 2 cups whole milk
  2. 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tbsp flour
  3. 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  4. 4 tbsp butter, melted
  5. 1/2 tsp salt

For the ricotta filling:
  • 2 lbs braised meat of your choice, shredded with a fork
  • 1/4 cup herbs of your choice
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups good-quality fresh ricotta cheese
  • Tomato sauce of your choice, preferably homemade
  • Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
  1. Mix the crepe ingredients together in a large bowl.  Strain and refrigerate overnight.
  2. Mix together the ingredients for the crepe filling.
  3. Heat the tomato sauce.
  4. Preheat the oven to 375F.
  5. To make the crepes, heat a medium-size nonstick pan over medium heat and brush it with melted butter.  Ladle a quarter cup of the crepe batter into the pan and swirl the batter around so that the bottom of the pan is entirely coated (you want the crepe to be very thin).  Let the crepe cook for 1 to 2 minute until it is nearly cooked through.  Carefully flip the crepe and cook the other side for another minute.  Remove the crepe to a plate.  Repeat this technique with the rest of the batter, stacking the crepes on a plate.  This should make approximately 15 to 20 crepes.
  6. To make the manicotti, fill the center of each crepe with about 1/3 cup of the ricotta filling.  Wrap each crepe and place seam-side down in a greased casserole dish.  
  7. Place the casserole dish in the oven and cook until the sides of the manicotti begin to brown, 7 to 10 minutes.
  8. Top the manicotti with the heated tomato sauce and grated Pecorino Romano cheese and serve immediately.

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